It probably should have been a bigger early warning sign when I started dating my first husband. But he really didn’t like my friends.
“Why?” I asked him. “Why don’t you like them?”
He answered this with a shrug. “I just don’t,” he said. “I don’t like spending time around them.”
It was curious to me. Because at least from my perspective, his friends and mine weren’t so different. Beyond gender disparity: Most of his friends were male, and most of mine were female.
Their values seemed roughly similar. Interests were fairly close.
After all, we hadn’t met randomly (as these were the days before online dating was something that much of anyone did). Instead, we’d been set up by a couple which consisted of one of each of our friends dating one another. There was some social overlap.
But he didn’t like my friends. And he wasn’t shy about it.
When my friends came over to visit, he tolerated them. But the moment they left, he rolled his eyes and complained about them.
With time, I stopped calling my friends or having them around much at all. And it was just us. And his friends, who we both continued to hang out with. Because I didn’t have a problem with them.
I Love You… But I’m Not a Big Fan of Your Friends
In a recent study, Fiori and colleagues examined the interplay between extramarital friendships and relationship health. They studied 373 married heterosexual couples over the course of 16 years. All couples in the study were same-race pairings; 199 couples were black and 174, white. Researchers found the following:
- By the 16th year, 46 percent of the couples studied had divorced.
- Husbands’ negative perceptions of their wives’ friends at Year 1 was a strong predictor of divorce. The effect remained even after researchers controlled for other common culprits of divorce (such as how participants rated the strength of their bond in the first year, income fluctuations, etc.)
- This husband-hates-wife’s-friends effect was only seen in white couples. The link was absent in black couples; they just weren’t prone to the same negative effect.
- Wives’ negative perception of their husbands’ friends did not predict divorce.
- Researchers did not find that a positive perception of either spouse’s friends led to increase relationship stability. This was contrary to their original hypothesis, what they expected to happen (they thought that liking your spouse’s friends would make you more likely to stay together).
Possible explanations for all of these findings are fairly complex, and the researchers explore them at great length in the discussion section of their paper.
In any event, the finding about a husband hating his wife’s friends syncs up well with my own lived experience. In the face of constant criticism of my friends by my first husband, I found myself drifting away from my previous support structure. And directly into his.
And as I did so, I became more isolated and lonely, especially as we ran into problems in our marriage.
Conversely, however, my first instinct was to simply tolerate his friends — even the ones I wasn’t so fond of — rather than making him uncomfortable by complaining about them, as he had.
While there were a number of factors leading to our eventual divorce, in hindsight I don’t think his disdain for my friends helped us, nor did the way I responded to it, distancing myself from my friends and going on to resent him for it.
This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.